Monday, August 8, 2016

TOP GEAR Battle of SUVs

Not so long ago – April on print and May online – Top Gear Philippines launched a grand editorial feature to showcase the top sport utility vehicles on the market today. These cream-of- the- crop SUVs they have listed are certainly the most sought-after big cars in the country, and boggle the mind with the lengthy waiting lists and the herculean efforts – not to mention the oodles of cash – that prospective owners in the Philippines have to go through in order to get their hands on any one of these bad boys of the road.

So it was that for Top Gear PH’s Big SUV Test, they brought together five top-line models from five car manufacturing giants, all of them turbo-diesel powerhouses with might four-wheel drive. Five of the magazine’s staff – three editors and two writers – all took one model each for as ultimate a shakedown as they can give them. At the end of the day they ranked these five SUVs based on tech specs, road performance, and whether you’ll get your best money’s worth.

As said before, the resultant article of their painstaking research graced the pages of their magazine on April 2016, and made available on their website May 20. As a driver of a fairly new 2 nd -Gen Montero Sport, I have been curious as to how big a leap the current 3 rd -Gen is to my ride. I can assure you however that I will try not to let any bias slip in as I relate how TGP rated my Montero Sport’s successor in comparison to its closest rivals in the Philippine SUV market, with my own two cents thrown in.

Mitsubishi Montero Sport

Let’s get this one out of the way first. The third generation Montero Sport is roughly the same size and dimensions as my ride (if just a bit lengthier), but the exterior styling is so incredibly sweet. I agree with Top Gear PH on how it looks the best out of the five, and the interior appears roomy and comfy too. The dashboard, despite the presence of the now ubiquitous touchscreen, looks like it could have come off from its ancestor the Pajero, which gives it some old-school style points. The 2.4L engine and 8-speed AT are both great, able to generate 178hp and 430Nm, can get up to 3,800rpm and will cover some 8.4 to 9km per liter on an urban drive. The 1,998,000 peso price is also something of a middle ground next to the asking prices of the other SUVs in contention here.

Isuzu MU-X

This one is the second-oldest of the five SUVs fighting this “battle”, and right from the start it’s glaringly outmatched by the other four in several ways. Looks-wise, it seems to come off as the most ordinary of the bunch, though drivers who are one for nostalgia may take to its classical exterior. Drive- wise however, it’s been noted that the MU-X handles a bit like a smaller auto with easy steering and not-so- resistant pedals. Then again, it can easily be configured for rougher terrain by a 4WD Terrain Command Selector. Unfortunately the rest of its specs and performance (3L engine, 161hp-380Nm) is near laughable to the rest with one exception – Isuzu has a super-efficient dealership network and plenty of spare parts available to MU-X owners. That’s certainly why it’s the cheapest too (P 1,708,000). So while Isuzu’s SUV can’t outperform the others, there’s a chance it might out-service them instead.

Ford Everest

One thing this steeply priced monster has over the others at first blush is that fact that it has a panoramic glass roof. That’s certainly a big plus for long-distance trips with a family in tow. Also impressive is how quiet the engine is when inside and on the move (somewhat edged out only by the Montero Sport). Its 3.2L TDCi engine gets you 197hp and 470Nm, and 4WD is easily engaged by a center console knob. Control for descending hills and blind-spot indicator lights are a nice bonus too. Steering control is much too light according to the TGP guys though, but nonetheless the plethora of tech features in the total package is quite something. That should explain the price (second-highest of the five at P 1,999,000) and the dreadful two-month waiting list of orders.

Chevrolet Trailblazer

Now here we have a study on how fast technology can march on. This Asian-market Chevy SUV is a completely different animal from the previous car (American-market) to carry the Trailblazer name, but despite the lack of its predecessor’s (optional) V8 engine, it’s still the zippiest of the five SUVs on this completion. It still doesn’t change the fact however that, in spite of being released but only 3 years ago, the Philippine SUV market already sees it as old. And that’s terrible. Compared to the others, the Trailblazer’s steering and handling makes it come off like a heavier truck, and the ride’s a bit rougher too. Then again, Chevy’s big boy still has some strong points. It has good ground clearance, can wade in deeper water (800mm) and has a formidable towing capacity. The Trailblazer would also like to remind all of us that it was the first SUV to sport that swanky OEM touchscreen thingy that now all good SUVs have got to have, and thanks to its relative age it has the second lowest asking price among them (P 1,748,888). It’s no longer at the forefront of the SUV pack, but the Trailblazer still has a whole lot of life left in it.

Toyota Fortuner

The first-gen Fortuner may have had a few rough spots in its performance, but Toyota was quick to learn from its mistakes to bring out the second model being featured here. It now has a reduced turning radius, a stronger platform with enhanced box sections, the A-Trac powertrain that makes the

Fortuner equally at home on the road and off, and superb wheel articulation. The 2.8L engine gives it 174hp and 459Nm torque, and its steering quality only falls second to the Montero Sport. The cabin design is something of a middle ground against its competitors in the Big Test, but the fact that owners have to pay extra for stuff like GPS and backing-up camera on top of the over two-million peso price (highest of the five) means the Toyota Fortuner is going to be mighty hard on the pockets for many.

In closing, I’m personally not going to make a recommendation as to which SUV is the best buy out of all of them. I’ll leave it to the Top Gear guys to make their case for each one (overall they went for the Montero Sport; great minds and all that). I only hope those would-be future SUV drivers reading this will now have a better idea of what to expect from the five cars that went head to head in Top Gear Philippines’ “Battle of SUVs”. As for me, a trade-up is still far off, but it felt nice to look over the latest models and talk about it.

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